Egyptian sect leader sentenced for claiming divinity

Cairo, Egypt - A Cairo court on Thursday sentenced an Egyptian man to three years and three months in jail for leading an unorthodox sect and claiming divinity.

But the man, trader Ahmed Ibrahim Abu Shousha, will serve only a three-month sentence, for possessing an offensive weapon, if he pays a fine of 5,000 pounds ($860), court officials said.

Twelve of his followers, including three women, received one-year sentences on charges of "spreading ideas at variance with the Islamic religion", including the views that ritual prayer is not necessary and that visiting tombs is preferable to the conventional Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. They can avoid jail by paying 2,000 pounds, the sources said.

Abu Shousha and his followers were arrested last July in the Nile Delta province of Qalioubia, northeast of Cairo.

Members of the group said Abu Shousha assumed names usually used for God and said he could intercede with God for them.

Egyptian law includes a wide range of offences for which the authorities can prosecute unorthodox religious beliefs.

More than 90 percent of Egyptians are Sunni Muslim and Egypt's constitution names Islamic law as the principal source of legislation.